Procyon lotor

Procyon lotor

The raccoon or raccoon (Procyon lotor, Linnaeus, 1758) is a mammal belonging to the Procyonidae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Kingdom Animalia,
Subkingdom Eumetazoa,
Superphylum Deuterostomia,
Phylum Chordata,
Subphylum Vertebrata,
Infraphylum Gnathostomata,
Superclass Tetrapoda,
Mammalia class,
Subclass Theria,
Infraclass Eutheria,
Superorder Laurasiatheria,
Order Carnivora,
Suborder Caniformia,
Family Procyonidae,
Subfamily Procyoninae,
Procyonini tribe,
Subtribe Procyonina,
Genus Procyon,
P. lotor species.
The term is basionym:
– Ursus lotor Linnaeus, 1758.
The terms are synonyms:
– Procyon lotor subsp. flavidus de Beaux, 1910;
– Procyon lotor subsp. varius Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon nanus Simpson, 1929;
– Procyon priscus Leconte, 1848;
– Procyon simus Gidley, 1906.
Within this species the following subspecies are recognised:
– Procyon lotor subsp. auspicatus Nelson, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. elucus Bangs, 1898;
– Procyon lotor subsp. excelsus Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. fuscipes Mearns, 1914;
– Procyon lotor subsp. gloveralleni Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. grinnelli Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. hernandezii Wagler, 1831;
– Procyon lotor subsp. hirtus Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. incautus Nelson, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. inesperatus Nelson, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. insularis Merriam, 1898;
– Procyon lotor subsp. litoreus Nelson & Goldman, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. lotor;
– Procyon lotor subsp. marinus Nelson, 1930;
– Procyon lotor subsp. maynardi Bangs, 1898;
– Procyon lotor subsp. megalodous Lowery, 1943;
– Procyon lotor subsp. pacificus Merriam, 1899;
– Procyon lotor subsp. pallidus Merriam, 1900;
– Procyon lotor subsp. psora Gray, 1842;
– Procyon lotor subsp. pumilus Miller, 1911;
– Procyon lotor subsp. simus Gidley, 1906;
– Procyon lotor subsp. vancouverensis Nelson & Goldman, 1930.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The Procyon lotor is an omnivorous animal native to North America, with a natural diffusion area that includes southern Canada, a good part of the United States, Mexico and part of Central America up to Panama.
Subsequently, around the middle of the 20th century, the raccoon was also deliberately introduced into France, Germany, the Caucasus regions and Japan.
In northern France, several raccoons were released by U.S. servicemen. Air Force near Laon-Couvron Air Base (a former joint French-American base in the department of Aisne) in 1966.
Following some sightings and captures along the Adda between 2004 and 2008, it is assumed that the species has crossed the Alps and is spreading in Lombardy.
In this regard, a reclamation operation has been underway since 2016 aimed at eradicating this colony, considered dangerous for the biodiversity of the area.
In November 2019, the news of the almost complete eradication was released and the operation should be completed by 2020.
In their natural range, raccoons are widespread throughout North America, from Canada to Panama, where the species Procyon lotor pumilus coexists with Procyon cancrivorus.
The population on the island of Hispaniola was exterminated by 1513 by Spanish colonists who hunted them for their meat. Later raccoons were also hunted to extinction in Cuba and Jamaica, where the last sightings were reported in 1687.
When classified as distinct species, the Bahamian raccoon, Guadeloupe raccoon, and Tres Marias raccoon were placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) endangered list in 1996.
Archaeological evidence suggests that in the pre-Columbian era, raccoons thrived in large numbers only around the rivers and woodlands of the southern United States.
Since raccoons were not mentioned in the early accounts of American pioneers exploring the central and northern parts of what is now the United States of America, their spread to these areas probably began in the second half of the 19th century. Since the 1950s, raccoons had spread from Vancouver Island, which was formerly the northernmost limit of their range, to the northern portion of Canada’s four south-central provinces.
Recently established habitats for raccoons (aside from urban areas) include the western Rocky Mountains, grasslands, and coastal marshes.
After the population explosion that began in the 1940s, the raccoon population in North America is estimated to have grown to such an extent that in the 1980s it was 15 to 20 times higher than it was in the 1930s, when raccoons were still relatively small. rare.
Urbanization (thanks to which they can easily find large quantities of food), the expansion of agriculture, the deliberate introduction and hunting of their natural predators has greatly increased the number and diffusion of raccoons.
Outside North America this mammal is most common in Germany, which hosts the world’s largest population of raccoons outside North America as a result of farm runaways and deliberate introductions in the mid-20th century.
Two pairs of raccoons were released into the German countryside in the Edersee reserve in northern Hesse in April 1934 by a forest ranger at the request of the owner, a poultry farmer; the forester released the animals two weeks before receiving permission from the Prussian hunting office to “enrich the fauna.”
Previous attempts to introduce the raccoon into Germany had been unsuccessful. A second population of raccoons was accidentally introduced into eastern Germany in 1945 when 25 raccoons managed to escape from a fur farm in Wolfshagen (in the present-day Altlandsberg district), east of Berlin, after an air attack. The two populations are parasitologically distinguishable: 70% of the raccoons of the Hessian population are infected with the worm Baylisascaris procyonis, but none of the Brandenburg population has this parasite. The Hessian population is estimated to have consisted of 285 animals in 1956, rising to over 20,000 by 1970; the total population in Germany was estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000 raccoons in 2008 and over 1 million in 2012.
Subsequently the Procyon lotor was officially declared game in 14 of the 16 states of Germany since 1954.
Hunters and conservationists agree that the raccoon is an invasive and dangerous alien species, made even more threatening by its seemingly uncontrolled and uncontrollable spread, as it threatens protected bird species and replaces domestic carnivores. However, this widely held view is contrasted, for example, by the zoologist Frank-Uwe Michler who has found no evidence that a large diffusion of raccoons affects the biodiversity of an area. Hohmann argues that extensive hunting cannot be justified by the absence of natural predators, because predation is not a significant cause of death in the North American raccoon population.
Another state with a high number of specimens is Japan. About 1,500 of them were imported into Japan as pets following the success of the 1977 anime Rascal, My Friend the Bear (あらいぐまラスカル Araiguma Rasukaru?) . of Japan. Raccoons were widespread in 17 prefectures in 2000 and in all 47 prefectures in 2008. Raccoons are estimated to cause 30 million yen (about US$275,000) of damage to agriculture in Hokkaidō alone.
The natural habitat of the Procyon lotor is made up of deciduous and temperate forests, but thanks to its marked adaptability it can also live in mountainous areas, swamps near the coasts, and even in urban areas, where it is often not seen willingly by the inhabitants .
However, even though raccoons have spread to areas with sparse trees in recent decades, they always need vertical structures to climb when they feel threatened. For this reason, they avoid open ground or areas with a high concentration of beech trees, because their bark is too smooth to climb. The holes that are created naturally in the trunks of old oaks or other trees and the fissures in the rocks are places chosen by the raccoons to sleep or as dens for the winter or to give birth to the cubs. If such dens are not available or if it is not convenient to access them, raccoons use holes made by other mammals, dense undergrowth or tree forks.
Since amphibians, crustaceans and other animals found on the banks of lakes and rivers play an important role in the diet of the raccoon, low-lying deciduous and temperate forests that abound in water and swamps are the places where the majority of specimens of this mammal. While in the prairies the density of the population varies between 0.5 and 3.2 animals per square kilometer and does not exceed 6 animals in the highest forests, in the low deciduous and temperate forests and in the swamps even 20 specimens can live per square kilometre.

Description –
The Procyon lotor is recognizable by its characteristic appearance which is characterized above all by the black fur mask around the eyes, in strong contrast with the white color that surrounds it. It seems almost reminiscent of a bandit’s mask, a detail that has certainly encouraged its reputation as a mischievous animal. Even the slightly rounded ears are covered with white hair. The raccoon is thought to recognize the facial expressions and postures of other members of its species more quickly than others due to the rich coloration of the snout and the unmistakable alternating light and dark rings on the tail. Elsewhere on the body, the stiff, long outer coat, which protects the skin from moisture, is grayish and has some brown undertones. Raccoons with particularly dark fur are more common in Germany, because similarly colored individuals were among those who were first released. The thick undercoat, whose length varies from 2 cm to 3 cm, makes up 90% of its fur and insulates it from low temperatures.
It is an animal that measures from 41 cm to 71 cm, beyond the bushy tail, the length of which can vary between 19.2 cm and 40.5 cm, although usually it does not exceed 25 cm.
The height at the withers varies between 22.8 and 30.4 cm.
The raccoon’s adult weight is influenced by the habitat: it can vary from a minimum of 1.8 kg to a maximum of 13.6 kg, although it is usually between 3.6 kg and 9 kg. The smallest specimens they are found in southern Florida and the largest live at the northern limits of the raccoon’s range.
The weight of males is usually 15-20% greater than that of females. At the beginning of winter, thanks to the fat accumulated during the summer, the raccoon can weigh twice as much as in spring. The largest wild specimen of which we have written records weighed 28 kg, by far the highest weight ever recorded for a raccoon.
Features are its paws.
The raccoon can stand on its hind legs to analyze objects with the extremely sensitive front ones.
Since it has short legs compared to its torso, it usually cannot run very fast or leap large distances. The highest speed that the Procyon lotor can reach over short distances varies between 16 km/h and 24 km/h. The raccoon can swim with an average speed of 4.8 km/h and can stay in the water for many hours. To climb down from the trees upside down, a rather unusual skill for a mammal of this size, the raccoon rotates its hind legs, so as to have a firm foothold. The raccoon has a double cooling system to regulate its temperature: in fact it is able to both sweat and pant to dissipate heat. The set of teeth, 40 teeth of which 2 molars, 4 premolars, 1 canine and 3 incisors, is suitable for its omnivorous diet: the carnassials are not as sharp as those of carnivores, while the molars are not as broad as those of herbivores. The penis bone of the male is about 10 cm long and is often utilized by the biologists for classifying the reproductive state of the various specimens.
Finally, it should be remembered that in the raccoon as many as 10 of the 13 vocal verses identified are used in communication between mothers and their cubs: among these there is the chirping similar to that of newborn birds.

Biology –
The reproduction of the Procyon lotor usually takes place in the period between the end of January and the middle of March, therefore in a phase of the year with an increase in brightness.
However there are considerable regional differences which are not fully explained by solar conditions. For example, raccoons from the southernmost states of North America are known to typically mate later than average. However, even in Manitoba the mating season begins later than usual, in March, and then extends until June.
During the mating season, males prowl their territory in search of females, attempting to court them during the three to four day period in which conception is possible.
The act of copulation, including foreplay, can last over an hour and is repeated over multiple nights. Weaker members of a male social group are believed to have the opportunity to mate when stronger individuals fail to do so with all available females. In a study conducted in South Texas during the 1990 to 1992 mating season, approximately one-third of females mated with more than one male. If a female does not become pregnant or if she loses her young early, she sometimes becomes fertile again 80 to 140 days later.
Gestation ordinarily occurs between 63 and 65 days, gestations also occur between 54 and 70 days: at the end of this period a litter is born which typically ranges from 2 to 5 young. Average litter size varies greatly with habitat, ranging from 2.5 pups in Alabama to 4.8 pups in North Dakota.
Larger litters usually occur in areas where mortality is higher due, for example, to hunting or harsher winters.
While the new males born in the year reach their sexual maturity when the main mating season is over, the young females can reproduce in the same year of birth and thus compensate for the high mortality of the young: up to 50% of the puppies born in one year can be the offspring of females born in that same year. The male does not take care of the chicks, which are thus totally entrusted to the mother. At birth, the chicks are blind and deaf but their black fur mask is already clearly visible against the pale fur.
At birth, the weight of the puppies varies between 65 and 70 g, while the length is around 9 cm. Their ear canal opens between 19 and 23 days after birth and a few days later the baby raccoons open their eyes for the first time.
Once the young reach the weight of about 1 kg, they begin to leave the den and after about 6-9 weeks they start consuming solid food. At that point, the mother begins to breastfeed them less frequently.
Weaning usually takes place after 16 weeks. In autumn, after the mother has shown them the territories where they can find food and build a den, the group of young raccoons splits up. While many females stay close to their mother’s territory, males can sometimes be more than 20km apart.
This behavior is considered an instinctive behavior aimed at preventing union with one’s blood relatives. However, the mother and her offspring may also share the den during the first winter in colder areas.
The life expectancy of raccoons also varies according to the habitat. Captive raccoons have lived for more than 20 years. Instead, in the wild, the average life expectancy of the raccoon varies between 1.8 and 3.1 years, depending on local conditions, evaluated in terms of traffic, hunting and the severity of the weather. Sometimes only half of the newborns manage to survive for the whole year and after the first year the mortality rate drops to 10-30%. Young raccoons are often vulnerable to the loss of their mothers and starve to death, especially in the longer, harsher winters. The leading cause of death of raccoons in North America is distemper, which can also reach epidemic portions and kill most of a local raccoon population. Heavy traffic and extensive hunting may, in some areas, be responsible for 90% of raccoon deaths. The main predators of the raccoon are the bobcat, coyote and Virginian owl, which usually prey on the younger individuals. In the Chesapeake Bay, the raccoon is the most hunted mammal by the bald eagle. In any case, hunting by predators is not a significant cause of death for the raccoon, especially since large predators have been exterminated in many parts of its range.

Ecological role –
The raccoon is an animal that has a developed sense that allows it to analyze objects with its front paws. Nearly two-thirds of the perceptual area in the Procyon lotor’s cerebral cortex is used to interpret tactile impulses, more than in any other animal studied to date.
As far as the visual aspect is concerned, it is believed that the raccoon is poorly capable of distinguishing colors if not totally colorblind, although its eyes are well adapted to perceive green light. Although its accommodation of 11 diopters is comparable to that of humans and the raccoon can see well in the dim light thanks to the tapetum lucidum located behind the retina, visual perception is of secondary importance due to the weakness of vision over long distances.
Smell also plays an important role in the orientation of this mammal. In addition to being useful for orientation, it is also a communication tool. The secretions of the glands, in particular of the anal glands, the urine and the faeces are in fact utilized for marking the territory.
Furthermore, thanks to its hearing, the Procyon lotor can perceive a wide range of sounds, from tones up to 50-85 kHz to quieter noises, such as those produced by worms in the subsoil.
All these characteristics make the raccoon a nocturnal animal, although it is sometimes active in daylight to take advantage of available food sources.
The diet of the Procyon lotor consists of about 40% invertebrates, 33% plant material and 27% vertebrates. Because its diet consists of such a variety of different foods, researcher Zeveloff says the raccoon “may be one of the most omnivorous animals in the world.”
While its diet in spring and early summer consists mainly of insects, worms and other animals already available at the beginning of the year, it prefers fruits and nuts, such as acorns and walnuts, which emerge in late summer and autumn and they represent a rich caloric source to accumulate the fat needed for the winter.
Contrary to popular belief, raccoons only occasionally eat large or active prey, such as birds and mammals. They prefer prey that is easier to catch, especially shrimp, insects, fish, amphibians, and bird eggs.
Raccoons are also virulent predators of eggs and larvae in both bird and reptile nests, to such an extent that for threatened prey species, raccoons may need to be removed from the area or nests may need to be relocated to mitigate the effect of their predations (as in the case of some globally threatened turtles).
When food is plentiful, raccoons can develop strong individual preferences for specific foods. In the northern parts of their range, raccoons go into winter rest, drastically reducing their activity as long as a permanent snow cover makes foraging difficult.
One aspect of raccoon behavior is so well known that it gives the animal part of its scientific name, Procyon lotor; lotor is Latin for ‘washman’. In the wild, raccoons often feast for food underwater near shore. So they often pick up food with their front paws to examine and rub it, sometimes to remove unwanted parts. This gives the appearance of the raccoon “washing” the food.
As far as its social behaviors are concerned, some studies conducted in the nineties by the ethologist Stanley D. Gehrt and Ulf Hohmann show that the raccoon assumes specific social behaviors according to the gender and that it is therefore not a typically solitary animal, as was believed in precedence. Related females often live together in the so-called fission-fusion society: roughly speaking, they share a common area and occasionally meet at places to feed and rest. Even unrelated males often form male social groups to maintain their social privileges against foreign males during the mating season or against other potential invaders. Groups of this type usually number no more than four specimens. Since some males show aggressive behavior towards unrelated cubs, raccoon mothers isolate themselves from the cubs until the cubs are old enough to fend for themselves.

Guido Bissanti

– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Facilidad Global de Información sobre Biodiversidad.
– Gordon Corbet, Denys Ovenden, 2012. Guide to mammals of Europe. Franco Muzzio Publisher.
– John Woodward, Kim Dennis-Bryan, 2018. The Great Encyclopedia of Animals. Gribaudo Publisher.

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